EDINBURG — Ai Nhan Ngo moved from Vietnam to earn a master’s in English as a second language at the University of Texas-Pan American last month. With her degree, Ngo plans to open a business back home teaching English to the Vietnamese.
“The economic situation in Vietnam is not great, and there is a very high need to know English there, especially if you want a good job working either with the government or international business,” Ngo said.
Ngo is among hundreds of other students that come to UTPA with an academic F1 visa to study in the United States. According to UTPA’s Office of International Admissions and Services Director Pam Chapa, there are 486 foreign students attending UTPA with an F1 visa.
“Right now, the students that came through our office this semester represent 49 different countries,” said Chapa, adding that there are other foreign students at UTPA but have entered with different permissions.
Students come here from Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, Chile, China, Costa Rica, Estonia, Guatemala, India, Japan, Mexico, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Panama, Peru, Russia, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey and Venezuela among others.
Chapa’s office is filled with souvenirs from across the world giving it an international ambience. She isn’t a world traveler, but the students that come into her office are from all over the world and give her gifts from their home countries.
Her department handles undergraduate students and assists them with meeting deadlines and all the necessary requirements for admissions into a four-year or five-year program. From there the student is issued an immigration document called an I-20, which gives them permission to study at the university. From there, the student takes the I-20 to the nearest American Embassy/Consulate to obtain an F-1 student visa.
Graphic design student Karla Castillo is one of those students studying with an F-1 visa. Castillo is from Reynosa, Tamaulipas, Mexico and is the second person in her family to attend university.
“I chose to study in the United States because there is no college in my city that can offer me the degree that I wanted, and also because of the quality of the school,” said Castillo. “The [U.S.] culture is very different from what I am use to, but I like the way this country gives the importance on education that it deserves.”
Ngo, who is the first of her large family to attend college, agreed that the quality of education at UTPA is high. A friend, who went through the same program, recommended she go to UTPA.
As she studies at UTPA, she also works on campus at the Office of Research Administration.
“Once I finish my master’s I plan to teach in the U.S. for one year to get the experience, and then go back to Vietnam and teach there,” Ngo explained.
Foreign students can work for one year after graduation, then take that knowledge back with them to apply in their home country. Once a student is done with their bachelor’s degree, they are encouraged to apply for Optional Practical Training (OPT).
“The OPT is a great way for our foreign students to get some workplace knowledge in the U.S. It is intended to provide hands-on practical work experience,” Chapa said.
The tranining, permitted by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), allows students to work in a major area of study for 12 months. Certain science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) degree holders may be eligible for an additional 17 months of OPT time in addition to the regular 12-month OPT.
UTPA graduate Carlos Ortiz from Reynosa went through OPT following his graduation in December 2007.
“I always wanted to study and work in the U.S ever since I was little,” Ortiz said. “I love my country and culture, but nevertheless, we live in a very competitive world and the more you know the better. By studying in the U.S., it also gave me the opportunity to learn a second language.”
To be eligible for OPT, students must have been lawfully enrolled on a full-time basis for one full academic year, maintain a full-time program of study and valid F-1 status and work in a job directly related to their field of study.
Chapa’s department keeps track of the students in OPT.
“Every semester there are about 80 students going through the OPT,” said Chapa. “And at the same time, about the same number of students are coming out of OPT.”
Castillo said she plans on applying for the OPT.
“I think it is really important to be aware of your community,” said Castillo. “Most of the students go far away in search of training, but they need to research and know where they can be helpful in their own community. I think you have to search and learn all the opportunities where you can work and where you will gain a better experience.”
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